To that point, most of the Cayenne's interior attributes are geared toward an athleticism uncommon in the segment. Its tight, leather-wrapped, multi-way-adjustable seats hold your body close. The visually alluring dash and central tunnel swathed in supple Alcantara up the elegance and motorsport antes. Associate online editor Benson Kong liked the gauges best. "The cluster is one of the best I've experienced in any vehicle and makes a lot of the center screen and its accompanying switchgear redundant. I love that you can control navigation, sound system, etc. via the panel's third gauge using the steering wheel buttons."
The Porsche falls short in a few places, such as the rearward visibility, especially with the rear headrests standing upright. Kong found it "atrocious, bordering close to Ray Charles 'I Can't See Sh*t' territory." Williams faulted the side mirrors, which he thought to be "tiny and misshapen." Williams also brought to our attention that Porsche commands a $655 premium for a rearview camera. Our tester came only with the standard radar parking sensors, whereas the Jeep and BMW include a camera as standard equipment. Then there are the ever-confusing forward upshift/backward downshift steering wheel paddles that take time to get used to. Strapping in a baby seat took the longest in the Cayenne because of its hidden LATCH clips. And once the seat was securely in place, rear passenger elbowroom shrunk considerably.
BMW piped a tad more of the delicious 4.4-liter twin-turbo whine and burble into the X5's white leather abode. To Kong, the M's carbon-fiber clad interior was the best of the group. "The simplest interior offers the most comfortable and spacious surroundings, both front and back," he wrote. "Jumping in and out of the first and second rows was the easiest in the BMW and there was noticeably more shoulder and legroom compared to the other two-and my build isn't even that big. With the Recaro planted smack in the center seat, there's still space to get your own seat belt clicked in, and breathing room for the shoulders. The X5 M won't make young children or adult passengers feel like they've been put in a dungeon."
Williams put it this way: "I like the interior of the X5 M and how it shares all the BMW design cues with all the other BMW sedans. However, I'm not a fan of the heavy reliance on the center iDrive control dial for access to all sorts of info, entertainment, and performance data." Indeed, not much comes close to the feeling of BMW hides and the optimal thickness of an M-designed steering wheel. As for paddle shifters, this Bavarian brute with its aluminum examples has some of the best.
The Grand Cherokee SRT8 doesn't care if you're in the mood or not -- its gigantic naturally aspirated 6.4-liter HEMI heart is going to roar and buck no matter what. This unapologetic, self-assured personality is immensely cool, especially when compared directly to the hyper-engineered, almost sterile Germans.
It's hard to tell what Chrysler's Street and Racing Technology team did, but in the SRT8, plastics don't necessarily look like plastics; leather and its white stitching yearn to be touched; and carbon-fiber trim adds tons of racing luster.
"Outward visibility was second-best for me," said Kong. "Love that you can watch over engine coolant, engine oil, and transmission temperature vitals as you're driving along. It introduces peace of mind if you obsess over details." Williams added, "I like the 120-volt inverter capability, but wish it were three-prong. And the backup camera is, by far, the best of the group at making single-operation trailer hitching a snap -- great screen and guidelines."
Baby seats are a cinch to cinch in the Jeep, and in terms of rear elbow space with a little one onboard, it ranks second behind the Bimmer. As for gripes, the extra-large American-size front seats, which lacked the support and adjustability of their German competition, and the outdated user interface were the source of a lot of complaints.
Of course, selecting any of the SUVs' respective Sport, M, or Track drive mode buttons balloons each cabin's attractiveness twofold. Press them once and you'll never want to unbuckle. Not only do the switches quicken many pertinent performance actions like steering feel, throttle response, gearbox shifts, and suspension dampening, but they also turn up the raucousness of the SUVs' growls. Again, the Jeep undoubtedly wins this contest with its angry, no-holds-barred "Track" mode engaged.
Round 2: Towing 101
Towing involves many variables and requires a lot of expertise to get it done without a hitch (pun intended), which is why we called upon the services and knowledge of the aforementioned Mr. Williams. The main ingredients to the towing cocktail are a hitch, a ball mount, and a wiring harness to control the trailer's lighting and hydraulic brakes. Setting the ideal tire pressure is critical as well. The other necessary element is the calculation of various weight measurements and capabilities.
The combination of a 2210-pound trailer plus a car needed to fall within the SUV's towing capacity. For the BMW, Jeep, and Porsche, that's 6000, 5000, and 7716 pounds, respectively. Fortunately, all gross trailer weights made the cut. The Z4, with trailer attached, tallied a combined weight of 5694 pounds; the Fiat weighed in at 4726 pounds; and the Porsche at 5163 pounds.
With the cars loaded and balanced according to prescribed limitations, Williams reminded us of some towing basics. Among them: Be mindful of your trailer's girth, go slowly, and take turns extra-wide. With that primer, we began the 96-mile journey into the desert.
North of L.A.'s urban ugliness is State Route 14, which leads first to the desert cities of Palmdale and Lancaster, then Rosamond, home of Edwards Air Force Base and the Willow Springs complex. Usually the road is a boring piece of pavement strewn with a steady flow of commuter traffic, but on this day, strapped into these performance machines, the word boring was quickly banished from our vocabulary.